Reasons why Board members get disengaged and stop raising funds
Being a Board member of a nonprofit organization is no small task.
In general, Board members are responsible for governance and support – at the most basic essence, dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s legally, financially and ethically, while facilitating operational and administrative needs. This may sound manageable and unassuming on the surface, but being a Board member carries with it major legal obligations and various associated Board responsibilities, from policy development to strategic planning.
Board members are usually identified and courted for involvement by nonprofits on account of their influence, profile and success. They are often visible leaders in business, government, education or the arts. Board members can frequently cast a broad net in reaching many contacts within their network, spreading the word, raising awareness and garnering donations in the process. And they possess a strong personal brand, which helps the brand identity of the organization they serve, too.
But nonprofits expect a lot of Board members, implicitly and expressly. Board members are commonly on the receiving end of various ad hoc requests, just-in-time asks and ongoing needs, including but not limited to doing their part as fundraisers. This and other factors can lead to a level of disengagement that affects Board members’ effectiveness in general, including their fundraising efforts.
Here are some of the most common behind-the-scenes reasons Board members won’t – or don’t – fundraise.
- They joined the Board for the wrong reasons. Being a Board member confers a certain degree of privilege and respect. According to the Harvard Business Review, “[M]any busy executives join nonprofit boards because of deep personal commitments to the organizations’ values and purposes. But others . . . participate for reasons of status and with the expectation that they will be able to enjoy a kind of vacation from the bottom line.” Others take Board affiliation a step further, doing so to “shed the ‘barbarian’ image that might otherwise afflict them.” In either case, and in instances in between, Board members may have joined an organization with wrongheaded motivations from the start. If so, signs of doing so are likely to present themselves at some point during their term. One symptom could be a laissez faire approach to critical needs like donations.
- They cannot connect the dots. “The boards of nonprofit organizations may include individuals who, while highly competent in some general sense, fail to understand how a ballet company functions or how graduate education relates to undergraduate education,” writes William G. Bowen in “When a Business Leader Joins a Nonprofit Board”. Entering an unfamiliar domain can be an opportunity for Board members to spread their wings or be of service to an issue important to them. But sometimes Board members struggle to apply their corporate or functional expertise to the organization in ways that make sense for the nonprofit’s culture, operations and goals. When the two sectors collide, Board member morale and confidence can suffer a dip, too.
- They are uncomfortable asking for money. Even among well-heeled Board members, money can still be a dicey topic. After all, money is considered a taboo subject, with 44 percent of all Americans agreeing that finances are the most challenging discussion point anyone can have. Well-connected members of the Board of Directors likely have expansive and diverse networks, comprised of colleagues, friends, mentors and influencers from various industries, serving in a range of roles, and at assorted notches on the “success” spectrum. The key is helping Board members grow as comfortable closing with an ask among personal contacts as they are when sharing informational stats about the cause du jour.
- They don’t have the right language. The value of well-crafted, customized stakeholder messaging cannot be understated. Board members are among the chief stakeholder groups, as they not only represent the organization in name, but also act as its advocates and mouthpieces throughout their workplaces, industries, communities and other civic activities. If Board members are not equipped to authentically express the value proposition of the cause, they are not going to be effective in leveraging that knowledge to inspire gifting.
In a future post, we will explore how nonprofit organizations can inspire and motivate Board members to be active fund-raisers. In the meantime, we’d love to hear your thoughts on reasons why Board members become disengaged. What did we miss? Share with us on The Wakeman Agency Facebook page.